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Inside D.C. General’s family shelter, the staff had a term for rooms deemed uninhabitable: “off line.” This designation was reserved for the worst of the worst—-rooms without working heat or overrun by mold or peeling paint or infested with roaches. The off-line label extended even to rooms that no one thought to convert to living quarters, like utility closets.

Residents were forced to sleep on deflated air-mattresses in a cafeteria, bed down shoulder-to-shoulder in activity rooms and lay on their own coats in hallways (see picture above). But for a time at least, Families Forward Inc., the nonprofit charged with running the shelter, kept residents out of the off-line rooms. Until the February snowstorms hit and the already over-crowded shelter became overwhelmed.

According to two former staffers and two residents, the off-line rooms were eventually filled. In one case, a supply closet became a bedroom. Families Forward tried to pressure two pregnant women to share that particular closet. There were holes in the walls, recalls one staffer. “You could tell that the rats or mice had ate through it,” the staffer says. “It was big enough to put a single bed and maybe a crib. It was a tad bigger than a walk-in closet.”

One of the women refused, the staffer says. But the other pregnant woman took the room. Another staffer recalls that there weren’t just holes but mold. Aaron McCormick, 42, a single father who resides at the shelter, says the space had been “storage for emergency food.” He describes it as “more like a jail cell.”

The supply closet conversion, and the moving of other residents into off-line rooms, was just another sign that Families Forward Inc. could not manage D.C. General. By then, residents had complained about the bad food, and the long waits to see case workers, and of course, the gaping holes in the walls:

And the cramped sleeping arrangements in the activity rooms:

On Feb. 9, a newborn died after being found unconscious in her shelter room. Two former Families Forward workers and one current employee say this wasn’t the first newborn death at the shelter. The previous year, another newborn was found dead.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner says a baby died on May 2, 2009; it had the same last name as the baby identified by former staffers. The cause of death was determined as “Sudden unexpected death in infancy associated with sleeping in prone position and inappropriate bedding.”

“It was kind of scary,” says one former staffer. Both former staffers say that Families Forward Inc. did not provide grief counselors to shelter employees or residents. Management just gave them a warning: Do not talk about the dead baby.

“When we had the incident with the first baby that passed, the only thing they said was not to speak about it to anyone,” the former staffer recalls. “They said ‘that’s your job’ if you talk. No one knows how the first baby died. It was on the hush-hush.”

When asked about the 2009 newborn death, Joi Buford, Families Forward’s shelter programs manager, refused to comment.

The staffers point to another long-standing issue within the shelter. This year, security guards found that the unused sixth floor had been converted into something of a bachelor pad. On their rounds, according to current and former staffers, the guards discovered used condoms, condom wrappers, and blunt papers. Garbage bags had been spread out on the floor for “bedding.”

Residents have complained about staff offering to trade extra blankets and juice for sexual favors. Families Forward Inc. recently fired several staffers for inappropriate contact with residents. Helen Hare, a spokesperson in Mayor Adrian Fenty‘s office, said that the Attorney General is looking into the allegations and refused further comment.

But current and former staffers say the sexual activities between staff and residents had been going on for some time. Staff and residents complained to management “plenty of times,” says one former staffer.

“We had meetings about it,” the former staffer says. “That was it. Even when they had names—names were given to them several times—nothing would ever be done. The thing that got me: We have cameras. But a lot of times they were breaking the cameras down, pulling the cameras down.”

At least one meeting took place last year to discuss an allegation that a staffer had gotten a resident pregnant. Says one former Families Forward employee:

“The staffer didn’t get fired. He was going around with a cellphone showing off pictures of the baby. He got her pregnant last year. I remember the rumors. It was last year, end of hypothermia. I remember the resident, she was on the fifth floor. She got pregnant. This resident had complained. After she got pregnant, they got her out there. I was very disappointed by it. Why is he still here? You had a meeting about it but you didn’t do anything to him about it. He wasn’t fired. We kept constantly getting complaints about this same guy with the residents.”

One current D.C. General resident says that the employee’s alleged harassment of residents was well known. As soon as she moved into the shelter, she says other residents warned her about him.

The two former staffers say that, along with the sex-for-blankets allegation, they heard complaints about co-workers trading cigarettes and small bills for blowjobs with female residents in the shelter bathrooms.

Again, one staffer says, management was aware of the problem but the activities continued. The staffer says they counseled a woman who had traded money for blowjobs. “She stated that she needed the money,” the staffer says. “She seemed like she was doing what she had to do to survive.”

The former Families Forward employee says that it was difficult to work at the shelter under CEO Ruby King-Gregory.

“I prayed that their contract be taken from them, that [the city] get someone who really cares, that really has the residents’ best interest at heart,” the former employee says. “I would stop and talk to each and every resident. I could spend a whole day just comforting, listening to the residents, telling them that it will be all right. I took it home. I took it with me. I carried that burden with me. It broke my heart to know what they were going through, what they were dealing with. It was very disconcerting for me. And it starts with the head Ruby Gregory.”

Gregory did not return calls seeking comment.

Councilmember Tommy Wells has scheduled a hearing on D.C. General for Wednesday morning. Wells told City Desk last week that Families Forward’s contract to run the shelter will be terminated.